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published in Issue 63, 4th quarter 2005
Everyday electric shocks from static electricity are a common occurrence and generally pose little risk to the human body. However, static electricity is a critical issue in the electronics industry where it causes an estimated US$5 bn worth of damage each year to electronic devices. A sudden discharge of static electricity can also cause fires or explosions in some environments.
As people are the greatest source of static charge in the workplace, anti-static measures such as protective clothing are required in these environments. Significantly, workwear is the largest market for antistatic apparel and within this area the largest consumer is the electronics and computer industry. Anti-static performance apparel is a highly specialised market but few companies specialise solely in anti-static fibres or yarns. Some service the whole anti-static or electrostatic discharge (ESD) market with products which include workbenches, flooring, packaging and garments. More commonly, fabric or apparel firms which target the workwear or protective wear market include one or more anti-static products in their range. Many flame-retardant fabrics also have an anti-static capability.
Anti-static apparel is generally worn over normal clothes and can be groundable or non-groundable. Most electronics firms choose groundable garments. The most common way to confer anti-static properties on a fabric is to incorporate conductive fibres. Common conductive elements used in fabrics include carbon, copper, silver, stainless steel or metallic salts. The choice of conductive product will partly depend on the end use and the required level of static protection.
The outlook for the global anti-static apparel market is good. As more consumer products incorporate technology, so an increasing number of manufacturers will need anti-static clothing. But, in common with the textile industry in general, much of the growth may be in Asia.
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